Woohoo! It’s time to start rolling out the red carpet for the 2017 UIT Startup Immersion High School Hackathon! What’s a high school hackathon, you say? Well, well, well, pull up a chair and let me tell you all about it.

Picture this: you arrive at our fun and funky space in downtown Sydney bright and early on Saturday, March 4th. You are greeted with an array of delicious and maaaaaaybe not-so nutritious breakfast foods to fill your belly that will get you ready to take on the day. We will introduce you to our amazing mentors and you can introduce yourself to everyone – there now, we are all friends.

You can enter a team or we can place you with a team, the choice is yours. Don’t
worry about how much programming, design, product development or computer skills you have because we will make sure you work with a group of people that complement the skills you do have. It’s a win-win situation.

You will spend about an hour working with your awesome team to come up with some ideas to build a web or mobile product. Think about the fun apps you like to engage with or the best websites you always visit – what makes them great? What makes them interesting to you? You’ll begin mapping out and building out your digital product and putting the pieces together as a team.

Bring on the lunch time spread! Eat until you can’t eat anymore and then it’s back to work on your masterpiece. Did we mention that you’ll be working with some of best programmers, designers and techies in the area!? Get ready to learn a ton!

You’ll work with your team until about supper time – and then it’s time for more food. Man, are you getting hungry just thinking about all the free food? I sure am. After supper you can put the finishing touches on your digital masterpiece and then we will gather around to see what you’ve created. You can also invite your friends and family – the more, the merrier!

When it’s all said and done, the staff and mentors at UIT will have a round table discussion about the awesome work you did and will be handing out prizes for best design, best idea, best functionality, who ate the most pizza….you get the idea!  

Last year, we had nine students participate in the hackathon! In two groups they built an app in which users could throw items at characters on the screen and a portal for a variety of games to be played online.

We are super excited to start accepting applications for this year’s hackathon. Click here to register. We can’t wait to create with you!

We are already into the second month of 2017 and time isn’t slowing down. If you are at work thinking to yourself, “man, I wish I had a cooler job” or “man, this job is sucking the soul out of me”, maybe it is time for a change? If 2016 got you down, you probably made a resolution to make 2017 ‘your’ year. We can help make 2017 your year. Keep reading.

Here’s the thing: life is really short. Too short, in fact, to be wasting your time at a job that is getting you nowhere in life. What if you could have a job that can take you everywhere, or keep you in Cape Breton if that’s your dream? So many people want to stay in Cape Breton and earn a fair wage and have stability in their lives and it sometimes seems like a pipe dream, but it’s not.

If the idea of working in the tech sector seems like something that isn’t for you, I’m here to tell you there is a job for everyone in technology. So, forget about the idea of technology, it’s a big fancy word that is used to label an industry. Within the industry there are hundreds of jobs that need to be filled! The great thing about technology is that the spin off is incredible: sales, marketing, advertising, recruiting, human resources, networking, programming, product design, business, agriculture, clean energy, oceans, education, politics. As you can see, the list goes on and on.

It doesn’t matter what kind of job you have right now, you can work in the technology sector and support the efforts of those who fight the good fight to bring stability and innovation to Cape Breton. If you want to be at the heart of what is going on, UIT Startup Immersion is the path you want to walk to get you there. If you think you can’t learn to code, let me tell you: you are wrong. We are so good at teaching coding, product design, development, business skills and networking, that we can give you what you need to find your place in tech. We are helping people find opportunity in a community where opportunity is perceived as scarce and we are blazing trails faster than ever before.

Our curriculum changes rapidly because employers visit our campus and say they need a developed skill set that can change from year to year or even month to month. Our student success coaches wake up early and stay late to make sure our students are ready for community pitch days. Our facilities are open to our students 24 hours a day to give them room to get the job done.

If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I’ve got this cool idea for an app,” UIT is the place for you. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “man, I’d love to run a business but need money to get started,” UIT is the place for you. If you’ve ever looked at your boss and thought “I should be running this place,” UIT is the place for you. We will teach you to build that app, find money to start that business and show you how to be that boss.

Don’t wait. We have a few seats left for September. Make 2017 ‘your’ year.

Self-directed learning: It’s overused and underestimated at every turn. Sometimes, adult learners don’t quite understand how to be self-directed and confuse self direction with motivation and initiative. Trust me though, they are very different and self-directed learning – which probably needs an updated term – is one of the most important skills a person can develop.

Here’s why: if you can discover your ability to become self-directed, you can teach yourself virtually anything. Like, literally anything. When you unlock the door to your own brain and if are frank about your strengths and weaknesses, you can master what your heart desires.

Now, I’m not saying that teaching yourself to piece together a car or build a house will be an easy task, but I am saying you can teach yourself to do it. The trick is in identifying your learning style and working to improve your weaknesses, as well as your strengths.

If you are not “handy”, you can learn to be handy by starting with small, easily accessible projects. Build a square box. That’s it. Don’t do anything else. Learn what it takes to “square” two pieces of wood, and figure out how to make them level. Find sources to help you learn these things: identifying other people who have the skills already is a good place to start. Knowing where to look online or in a book is helpful too. It doesn’t matter how you  come to acquire the knowledge necessary to build the box; what is important is that you build the box no matter what.

Self-directed learning is about seeking out new knowledge and navigating your resources to make the most of your goals. Self-directed learning is not sitting at home studying for a test: while the act of directing yourself to sit and study is certainly noteworthy, it does not define the true power of self-directed learning.

UIT Startup Immersion encourages students to be self-directed learners. We give you the tools you need to succeed, but how you take those tools out into the world and how you use them is based on your drive, determination and curiosity about the power of your new found knowledge. What’s cool about our program is that we actually teach you to become self-directed. We do this by constantly asking you why, how, what, when, where, why, why, why? We do this by asking you what else is there? What else could there be? We send you out to find out for yourself what else is out there. The more questions you ask, the more informed you’ll be, and the better prepared you’ll be to take on your next project. Having the ability to filter through the crap and find the good stuff is what self-directed learning can help you achieve.

There are arguments for the pros and cons of both traditional learning classrooms and online learning classrooms but whether one is really better than the other doesn’t matter: what matters is a person’s ability to leave a learning opportunity armed with the ability to continue learning more about a topic or skill that they are interested in: and it starts with arming yourself with the ability to be self-directed. Want to learn how to unlock the power of self-directed learning and start working toward a career in tech and entrepreneurship – where learning happens everyday – then come check us out.


Allyson White is a woman who knows what she wants and has always known there is a place for her in the tech industry. She was in tech before tech was even a conversation piece and a trending industry in Cape Breton. In part three of our Women in Tech feature, we sat down with Allyson to talk about her interests, her accomplishments and her goals in the hustle and bustle industries of technology and entrepreneurship!

14483922_10157474303500576_1469280368_nA 2nd year graduate of UIT Startup Immersion, Allyson currently works for Ubique Networks in Sydney, Nova Scotia and she is building two startup companies. Not one… but two! This woman is busy! She knew she could make her home in Cape Breton because of the opportunities a coding education could provide her, and her tech businesses will allow her to work with clients all over the world.

Hailing from Scotchtown, her heart is in Cape Breton first but she dreams of a wanderlust life on the road, coding and helping others fix their tech-related problems while seeing the beautiful sites the world has to offer. We asked her what she would do if we gave her $10,000 right now – she’d hit the road. She knows that inspiration comes in all shapes and sizes and a life spent seeing the world is sure to inspire!

When asked about the lack of women in the tech industry, Allyson wanted to take a moment to remind the women in our community that this industry is only limited by your imagination. And if you are not a creative person, you can learn to be: the culture and atmosphere of tech companies alone is worth getting into the industry for. Allyson is a huge advocate for corporate culture and has experienced the decline of culture first hand and started her own companies to help curb some of that negativity in the workplace and be a part of the movement to build better businesses.

A self starter, Allyson taught herself to use Ionic and coded for about 18 hours during a hackathon where she took a 2nd place prize with another student of UIT, Rachael MacKeigan and they split over $700 in prize money. She also placed 2nd at the Sea++ competition in the spring taking home $2000 in prize money and was awarded the Cape Breton Island Futures Fund bringing home $10,000 in seed money to launch her garbage recycling app company.

Here’s some fun facts about Allyson: she describes herself as smart, outdoorsy, fun and squirrely! She loves hiking and camping and could spend every moment of her summer in a pool. Her future goals are to continue to grow her companies, start a travel blog detailing her wanderer tech life and help women break into the tech sector. She champions the UIT program and encourages others to pursue their passions, whatever they may be.

If you meet Allyson on your travels, invite her for a slice of pizza and Pepsi and ask her to tell you about the time she hiked for 10 hours into the woods to camp and sleep near wild horses.

Sometimes a problem is just a business waiting to happen. And Nova Scotia has its share of problems. The irony, however, is that one of our problems is we have the lowest per-capita number of businesses compared with the rest of Canada; and in Cape Breton it’s even lower.

We need more people who, when they see a problem, switch into problem-solving mode. In other words, entrepreneurs! (As well as so-called intrapreneurs in government, higher ed, and corporations.)

The problem with solving your own problem

But which problems get solved for depends to some extent on who is doing the solving. That’s because entrepreneurs often set out to solve their own problems.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. After all, who’s more motivated to relieve a pain than someone who acutely feels it themselves? (Call it the startup equivalent of “write what you know”.) But if we’re going to address the problems facing our region, the country, and the world, we need to ensure that the people doing entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship are representative of the population.

This requires dramatically increasing the participation of women in the tech sector.

Wage ‘Gap’ or Injustice?

How do we do this when, on average, women make roughly 75 cents for every dollar that men make to do the same job? Hardly a wage ‘gap’; more like wage chasm. Regardless of the metaphor, it sends a clear message that society values women’s work less. No wonder women are so underrepresented in the sector. Younger women as a result don’t see themselves reflected in relevant role models… and there you have a vicious circle.

The reasons for the disparity are myriad and systemic. (I haven’t even mentioned child-care and family-caregiver issues!) Correcting them requires strategic collaboration between women and men at all levels of government and across all sectors of society.

In the meantime…

UIT is committed to improving access to technology and entrepreneurship education. And we’re equally committed to increasing the visibility and influence of women in technology. So what are we doing, in our small part, to address the situation?

  1. Thanks to people like Annette Verschuren and companies like Protocase and MentorCamp (in addition to other industry partners) we are able to offer assistance to students with financial need and in particular through our ‘Women In Tech Bursary’.
  2. We reserve half of our seats for women: in both our launch year (2014-2015) and second year (2015-2016) our student cohorts were made up of 50 per cent women.
  3. We sponsor the Sydney chapter of Ladies Learning Code and volunteer as instructors and mentors for their workshops.
  4. We ensure that our female and male students are seen and heard equally during public presentations (participation on panels, public demos, etc) and through media coverage.
  5. And we strive for parity in our network of visitors, mentors, and advisors. (It’s somewhat ironic that these, and other, women leaders are not difficult to find. And yet women’s participation in tech and entrepreneurship is nonetheless lower and less visible than it needs to be.)

Because of our commitment to increasing the number of women employed in Nova Scotia’s ICT sector, this past June we were awarded the first inaugural Diversity Champion Award from Digital Nova Scotia.

This award celebrates and highlights the efforts of a company or organization who goes above and beyond to recognize the need for greater gender diversity in our male-dominated sector, such as developing metrics and/or a specific target to promote and retain more women in technology or technology-related positions.

And yet…

And yet… this year our cohort is all men! Why?? Other than having far, far fewer women applicants than in previous years, we don’t know the answer.

But we’re asking the question, as publicly as possible, including at the recent panel discussion on Women in Tech hosted by Navigate Startup House and featuring Annette Verschuren, Val Fox, Kim Deveaux, and myself.

We’re accepting applications for 2016/2017. Have an idea to recruit more women into UIT? Or the tech sector in general? Leave a comment below!

In part two of our three-part feature on Women in Tech, we talked to Carol Louie, a 2015 graduate of UIT Startup Immersion. Living and working in Vancouver, British Columbia, Carol believes in the effort required to get ahead of the pack in the coding world.

After she graduated from UIT, Carol came to work for us as a student success coach and we were so happy for her when she scored a developer position in Vancouver at Culture Code! carol

Before her life in code, she strived to improve the position of women in the world through non-profit work. She recognized the link between improving her own position in life through coding and her pursuits to improve women’s welfare in general. She agrees that “it’s a man’s world and you have to work within [it]…” but she encourages women to “prove you are better.” She advocates for women in the tech sector by calling out others on society’s acceptance of behavior and the treatment of women by asking them “do you think that would have happened if she were a dude?”

We love Carol’s attitude about a career in coding: “it’s hard, but it’s rewarding” she tells us via email. She admits her frustrations with culture cliches in the industry: there are ping pong tables in every tech startup around the world and she points out that “there is nothing innovative about doing what every startup in the world is doing.” She prefers to build a culture of trust and feedback through communication: she enjoys coding around others, rather than by herself. Carol seeks out “rubber ducks” to bounce ideas off of to know how crazy things sound.

The opportunities for her to learn, the constant challenges and the community support is what keeps Carol interested in coding! She lives an inspired life with the musings of Dr. Suess, Shel Silverstein and Salina Yoon in her back pocket. Her outgoing nature, keen attitude and people-centered focus is why we love her!

Fun fact: If we gave Carol $10,000 right now she’d buy a hard drive, go on an epic scuba diving vacation and donate the rest to help her community…hundo-p.

If you run into Carol, invite her for a beer and get to know her better. You won’t regret it!

“There is nothing more exhilarating than working on a problem for a while and then figuring out the solution!” – Rachael MacKeigan, UIT Startup Immersion Graduate


It’s no secret that the tech industry is predominantly men, but there are lots of women rocking the industry in their own way and blazing a trail doing it! In this three part blog series, we’ll feature three women who have come into the tech industry and made a name for themselves in a relatively short period of time.

Rachael MacKeigan has always been interested in technology – volunteering her time with robotics clubs and building websites for non-profit organizations – but she didn’t think she had the time to immerse herself fully to learn coding. She knew there were jobs in Cape Breton for techies and so she decided it was time to learn what she needed to learn to make coding more than a hobby.

Working in marketing and communications for the Nova Scotia Community Access Program, she saw first hand the benefits of giving people access to technology related training. She enrolled in UIT Startup Immersion in September of 2015 and knew she could use this time to buckle down and learn as much as she could to land a job in a startup. “I really needed to immerse myself in coding and build on the fundamentals. I also really needed someone I could go to with questions.” She knew that literally immersing herself in the coding world would be what she needed to succeed, and having the support of the UIT success coaches and mentors was the icing on the cake.

When we asked her what the hardest part of coding has been she admits that “the hardest part has been feeling like you don’t know enough, or aren’t good enough…but they [those feelings] become less and less prominent the more I learn and talk to people in the industry.” She goes on to remark that “Cape Breton is building a really supportive atmosphere, so I feel very lucky to be a part of that community.”

Rachel took a junior developer position with Layers, Inc. as soon as she graduated from UIT Startup Immersion and she hopes to either launch her own company or continue working for an established company right here in Cape Breton. She hopes to be able to mentor other women in the industry and she comments, “I would like to see more women developers. I’ve encountered nothing but support and encouragement so far in my career, but women developers in our local community are few and far between.”

UIT recognizes the need to encourage women to get into tech, especially in Cape Breton, and offers the UIT Women in Technology Bursary to make it easier for women to break into the industry. Rachael says, “We need you! I let doubt creep in for many years before deciding to make this change and it has been going great so far. We need new ideas and new perspectives so if you’re interested, jump in!”

When she isn’t working on a mobile app product, winning prizes at local hackathons, or spending time with her dog, Rachael likes to swim, bake and play trains with her niece and nephew! She admits to having an obsessive problem with painting furniture white, and she dreams of making tech and robotics programs more robust for kids in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

If you run into Rachael, give her a high five for going after what she wanted – she’s pretty cool.